Sean Schuster-Craig is a multi kind of guy. Performing under the Jib Kidder name, he’s a multi-talented multi-instrumentalist. He is also a visual artist who works in multi media. All of this is done with the idea of producing what he calls “psychedelic collage”. Perhaps this approach is the result moving among multiple states and regions within the US, having called Georgia and Michigan home while currently splitting time between the East and West Coasts.
As such, the first couple Jib Kidder albums were pastiches of different musical forms such as folk and rap, cut up and mixed with Schuster-Craig’s own Do-It-Yourself, home-recorded compositions. One track, “Windowdripper”, was even featured on TV’s So You Think You Can Dance. IV (2013), however, showcased a melodic, indie-pop sensibility, Schuster-Craig providing his own vocals and relatively straightforward arrangements. Meant as a more dreamy, ethereal companion piece to IV, Teaspoon to the Ocean has actually received a lot more attention, having been picked up by Weird World Record Co., an offshoot of ultrahip indie/folk label Domino.
At least since Paul McCartney holed himself up on his farm in Scotland in 1969 to start on what would become McCartney, multi-talented musicians have been turning out quirky, homemade, critically-favored DIY recordings. Teaspoon to the Ocean falls squarely into that category, and evinces benefits and drawbacks common to such an approach.
Teaspoon to the Ocean is indeed dreamy, cozy, and insular. If this is psychedelic collage, Schuster-Crag’s psyche is the exclusive source of material. Arrangements are laid back, the multi-layered instrumentation is uniform, and the issues of hooks and choruses are never forced. If you’re the kind of person who finds the idea of a whimsical indie-pop song called “Remove a Tooth” endearing, you’ll be charmed by at least half of what Jib Kidder is up to here. Indeed, the track kicks the album off with blissful, sustained ringing, then tumbles into a trippy, dubby, trancelike affair with a wordless, “dude I’m so out of it!” chorus. It’s like “Tomorrow Never Knows” drenched in sunlight.
When Schuster-Craig grounds his songs in the general ideas of melody and dynamism, he creates what is at the very least a pleasant musical diversion. He will be touring with Panda Bear, and it’s clear from the head-nodding, Far East-tinged “In Between” that the two share a fondness for Brian Wilson the Eccentric Musical Genius. Schuster-Craig has also named fellow studio rats like Beck and Lindsey Buckingham as influences. Two of Teaspoon to the Ocean‘s most indelible moments come when Schuster-Craig approximates Buckingham’s singularly wild guitar style at the ends of “Appetites” and “Dozens”. The slapdash, intrusive “I-Even-Played-the-Drums-Myself” percussion is not nearly as appealing.
And that is the downside spending an entire album so thoroughly inside one man’s head. You are completely subject to his whims and not all of them lead to great decisions. There’s a strong argument to be made, for example, that unless you are in a band called Kraftwerk, you should never use a vocoder. Ever. Yet here’s Schuster-Craig warbling into the thing like it’s either a newfangled contraption or a coy throwback, while it is neither. Schuster-Craig’s desire to mask his voice is understandable, though, because he has a tendency to deliver his words woozily and as if someone has hung him upside down and is shaking them out of him syllable by syllable. This, combined with a general lack of direction, renders a decent section of Teaspoon to the Ocean dull at best and unlistenable at worst.
Then there is the ten-minute drone-out “Melt Me”, which is neither as transcendent as it wants to be or as bad as it looks on paper. As for Schuster-Craig’s lyrics, they fit into the artist’s overall collage-inspired paradigm as well. Therefore, while a craftily-turned phrase occasionally shows itself, more often you are left with lines like “Oh no! / The way I stand / I know you know / I know I am / On and on.” It’s more Dr. Seuss than Captain Beefheart, in a manner of speaking.
It’s probably fair to say that Teaspoon to the Ocean makes more sense to Sean Schuster-Craig than anyone else. It has its fun-in-the-indie-sun moments, to be sure, but Schuster-Craig himself has claimed that IV is better. He may be right.